Bill Would Ease Development Restrictions Around Vernal Pools

Feb 26, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Legislature is considering a measure that would ease the way for development near so-called "vernal pools," which provide breeding habitat for frogs, salamanders and turtles.

The bill's chances were improved after the chief sponsor gutted large portions of proposed rule changes.

Maine's current law protects woodlands from development within 250 feet of a significant vernal pool. But Rep. Richard Campbell's bill would provide an alternative. Campbell, a builder and developer in the Greater Bangor area, and fellow Republican, Gov. Paul LePage, believe that the vernal pool law passed in 2005 has wrongly denied too many Maine landowners the chance to develop their property.

Campbell came up with a bill that would provide new breeding areas for amphibians, using what are described as "alternative direction corridors," as a way to open development within 250 feet of a significant vernal pool.

But as Campbell presented the bill to the Legislature's Environmental and Natural Resources committee, he acknowledged that the proposed rules were cumbersome. "As I read the draft and passed it around, it seems to be more complicated than I thought originally," Campbell said.

And by stripping the rules from the bill, Campbell won some support from state regulators. Mark Bergeron, the division director for Land Resource Regulation at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, says that since the state's vernal pool law was passed in 2005, a lot has been learned about how these habitats work.

"For that reason, it makes sense to revisit the department's rules to update them," Bergeron said. "Currently, activity around a vernal pool must be limited to no more than 25 percent of developed area within a fixed radius of 250 feet of a vernal pool depression. This may limit options of anybody wanting to develop within 250 feet."

Bergeron, and others on the committee, said they had confidence in the DEP's ability to further research the intent of Campbell's bill. Other members of the committee say that it's important that other state agencies weigh in on any proposed changes.

Sally Stockwell, of Maine Audubon, agrees. "We feel very strongly that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife needs to be involved, not only in developing the rules, but also in the permitting process," said Stockwell. "They are the experts on the ecology of these species and the habitat needs."

The Committee will continue its review of LD 153 next month.